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Annie Robinson

Chapter One

The seventeen-year-old boy stood in the aisle and braced himself as the bus rocked and squealed against its brakes and then hissed as it pulled to a stop at the curb. He glanced back at his mother who stood on the sidewalk just inches from the rear of the bus. The bus puffed a black cloud of diesel exhaust; she coughed and slapped at it as it enveloped her face. Momentarily the cloud evaporated, her coughing ceased, and he saw her face freeze into blankness. Compassion for her warmed him as he watched her. He knew the day ahead was going to be hard for both of them.

He heard the distant rumble of thunder and saw a light rain sprinkle his mother. He thought she looked stressed as he watched her breathe in the rain's freshness and with her hand wipe its moisture off her face as she waddled to the front of the bus and glanced at its front window. The driver grabbed a clipboard from the dash and rested it on his apple-shaped stomach and began to write. This irritated the boy, who was anxious to exit.

He shifted his weight and moved closer to the passenger ahead of him. Finally the door clattered open and the passengers spewed forth onto the sidewalk. The boy leaped off the last step and walked toward his mother. She twisted her fingers as she watched him. Her face became animated. He frowned. Though they had not seen one another for close to a year, he immediately felt the tension of the family situation hovering over them.

"Hi, Mom," he said. He felt awkward. He searched for words to say to her but none seemed right. He felt he should hug her but he knew his mother would pull away in discomfort. It wouldn't have felt right to him either. They had never been a family who showed physical affection.

His mother smiled at him. She rubbed her nose. "It's good to see you, Dean," she said. The rain on her skin sparkled as bubbling droplets flattened and trickled onto her neck. She brushed back a wet clump of hair that had fallen onto her face. She stepped away from him and looked up the main street of the small town.

"So how does it feel to be back home," she asked.

"It feels good, Ma." Her smile broadened and he knew he was misleading her into false hopes so he quickly made himself clear.

"But I'm still not staying. I have to go back to Massachusetts. I've made a home with Aunt Dell and Uncle Al. I'm happy there. I'm sorry."

She looked into his face. A bolt of lightning flashed behind them and the boom of thunder seemed to shake the earth. A blast of wet wind whistled in Dean's ears. He noticed a flash of hurt crossed her face and then immediately gave way to blankness.

"We better get to the car before we get soaked to the bone," she said. His stomach tightened. A restleness gripped his insides and then flowed through him. His hands trembled. He shoved them into his pants pockets.

They silently walked a few steps, both hunched against the pelting rain, to an old, beat-up car and quickly got in. She wiped the rain from each side of her face with her shirt sleeves and Dean vigorously shook his head. Droplets scattered. They dotted the dusty dashboard. The engine knocked and rattled as its parts struggled to keep the sedan moving as they drove off. The hole-infested muffler grumbled and backfired. Dean slid down in his seat. The old jalopy was older than him and though his parents had bought it used seven years ago, he was still embarrassed to be seen riding in it.

He thought about his home town as his mother drove. Waterside, Maine was fast becoming a community of upper-middle-class outsiders, most of whom were transplants from Massachusetts. They were buying up lots of lands from the natives, land that had often been handed down through many generations.

With the booming economy of the eighties the natives' had found their property values rapidly increasing and along with the rising values came rising tax rates. However, their wages remained stagnant. So to pay their property taxes they sold land. Or, in some cases, one simply couldn't resist a quick forty thousand, or hundred thousand, or whatever it might bring.

Often acres of field and woodland were broken into tiny lots of less than a half acre and transformed into housing developments, many of which teemed with children which in turn crowded the local schools beyond capacity. All of Waterside's schools, elementary to high, were surrounded by modular buildings used as classrooms to hold the extra load of new students. Waterside was a tourist town with many pristine beaches along its edges. Word spread fast that beachfront property could be bought here for less than such places as Cape Cod while also providing less congestion and what many considered a higher quality of life.

It was a beautiful town, and he knew that. But it was no longer home to him. Massachusetts was his home now. He thought of his father. He felt apathetic and had turned off all feelings for the man. Then he thought of his mother, and his apathy turned to concern. His hands trembled. His mind whirled as he tried to sort his feelings into their proper slots. He felt like a slot machine whose lever had just been pulled. What came out of his mind was, as always, mixed. It was rare when he got a jackpot of matched feelings. This jumble of thoughts had pushed and pulled at him for years until finally they had converted into an all encompassing major depression that had taken over his mind and body and had almost destroyed him a year ago.

"How long does Dad have to stay in jail, Mom?" Dean said. His voice held no emotion. The car's worn shocks squeaked as it jarred its passengers over the frost heaved roads. It began to pour and the wiper on Dean's side lay dead as the rain pelted against and streamed down the glass. Everything outside the window before him became blurred and distorted. His mother clicked on the radio to her station which played songs from the seventies. She turned up the volume to hear it over the pinging of the rain against the roof. The Eagles sang a song about a hotel. His mother hummed along.

He knew the jail was two miles from town, five miles from their home. It stood on twenty acres alongside the road they now rode upon which also led to the mall so Dean had passed it many times yet he now realized he had never really thought about it. What had often snatched his attention, however, was the beef and dairy farm on the opposite side of the road. Its fields stretched for two miles. Barbed wire surrounded the perimeters, enclosing the cattle.

Many times he had wanted to cut it to allow them to run to freedom. He could sneak into the old farmer's pastures under the disguise of midnight and clip an open gate into the metal line of confinement. He knew to do so would get him locked up so he never acted on this desire. Freedom was liberation. Loss of freedom would kill him. He realized his mother had not answered him.

"How long is he in for?" he again asked.

His mother glanced at him and forced a smile, revealing a missing front tooth. He noticed the whitening of her knuckles against the steering wheel. "Oh, he'll only be in for another twelve days. He didn't run anybody down or nothing like that. He's already served eight days. I'm so glad you've decided to come home to see him, Dean. I can tell he's been hurting 'cos you haven't come around to see him. You know he ain't one to say nothing, but I can tell." She snuffed and twice tapped the tip of her nose.

"Well, like I said, I'm not staying beyond tonight's bus. I only came to stop your begging. You know he and I don't get along. I really don't want to see him." His voice was flat. He knew anger would only upset her and he wouldn't do that to her. He found it hard to sit still because of the nervous energy he felt. He ran his fingers through his damp, but almost dry, hair. It was freshly cut as of last night, but he could feel that it had retained its natural waves which curled above his ears and all about his head. As his fingers brushed it, a few brown hairs fluttered to his chest. He felt dampness along the edge of his bangs and alongside his ears where tiny droplets of perspiration tickled as it dripped down against his cheeks and forked about the darkening fuzz about his cheeks and chin.

He knew he needed to begin shaving but he put it off because he thought he looked older with the budding beard. He remembered that several girls at the high school he had attended last year while living in Massachusetts, had shown interest in him, but he had never dated any of them. He had heard two girls say he was cute. When he looked in the mirror, he could see he was quite good looking, but while this was important to him, he didn't dwell on it. There were too many other issues and thoughts crowding his mind. He caressed his chin with his finger and thumb for a few minutes and then repeatedly zipped and unzipped his jacket. He felt the confinement of the 78 Buick as he pushed his size 12 sneakers against the floorboard. The sting of perpetual fatigue was felt within his eyes and he knew their blue coloring was most likely pink tinged and glossy.

Almost instantly the rain stopped and the sun began to shine as a cloud floated pass it. He observed his mother out of the corner of his eye. She was a big woman. Just turned forty, last year she had complained to Dean about how she had put on fifty pounds in the past five years. With the added pounds, her blood cholesterol and blood pressure had shot up to dangerously high levels, but she had stopped going to the doctor because she had no health insurance and couldn't afford the office visits or medications. Fat rolls bulged against her all over as if struggling for release.

She had huge, hazel, protruding Chihuahua eyes that had once been attractive within her high cheekbones, but were now engulfed within fat which rose up and partially enclosed them. Her hair, reddish-orange streaked with gray, was short, just below her ears, but held a perpetual fuzz which made it uncontrollable and it tended to shoot up and out of her head. Her skin suffered from its host's hard life, bad health, and chronic malnutrition, and had acquired a perpetual orange hue and thickness making her look like a carrot with her hair as its sprout.

The prison loomed ahead and then as they rounded the bend in the road it was immediately before them. The thought of seeing his father again overwhelmed Dean. His heart spasmed, and then with great force, pounded madly against his chest. His trembling hand dropped the zipper. He gasped for breath. The world began to spin about him, and then he began to spin within it. He felt a deep crimson color his neck and scribble up his chin and across his face bringing with it a heat that wrung sweat from his pores until he felt his skin drool. He felt he was dying and the car was his casket.
"Damn, pull over, I've got to get out!" he screamed.

His mother immediately pulled over into the first driveway available. It belonged to a nursing home. Before the car came to a complete stop he flung open his door and leaped out. He ran to a tree, a massive oak, and leaned his back into it and gasped for air.

"Dean, what in the world is wrong?" his mother called.

Her voice sounded muffled and far away, like it was being yelled across the ocean and being carried to him along the roar of breaking waves. He couldn't see her for his eyes were tightly squeezed shut and all he could see was the panic within him. It was shooting flames of red against a black background interspersed with the whirling of his body spinning through the image. He felt his body fall and crash into the ground. The pain of the fall brought him around and saw his mother open the car door. He raised his hand to stop her. He felt his breathing slow and the heat in his face cool. Puzzlement and fear were on his mother's face when he glanced at her. She, nor anyone else, would understand what had just happened to her so he would not attempt to explain it even though he knew he had given her quite a scare. Also, it was very embarrassing. He walked back to the car and slid in beside her.

"Don't ask questions, Ma, please. Just sit here a few moments before we cross over into the prison."

"But, Dean."

He slapped the dashboard in frustration. The radio short circuited. He hit it again with an extra hard fist pounding and again it came on. Elton John crooned a song. "Please, Mom, I don't want to talk about it." She snuffed. "Okay, okay. But a mother worries." Dean rubbed his hand across his face and then brushed it against his bangs. Up and over. "It's nothing, Ma. Okay? Just give me a few moments, that's all I ask."

He stared out the window at the nursing home. A resident rolled by in a wheelchair pushed by an attendant. A belt looped around the resident's waist and around the back of the chair to hold her in. She fingered and pulled at the constraint. The attendant grasped her fingers and pulled them away. They passed Dean's door. The resident glared at him, and then she jerked back her head and laughed open mouthed at him. She had no teeth; her mouth was a black hollowness. Dean looked away. Ahead, just beyond the nursing home, was a grammar school. Children ran and played behind a chain-link fence. Their screaming voices were filled with excitement. A couple of them played a game of marbles. A group kicked a ball between one another. One small boy, wearing jean overalls, gave the ball a good hard kick and it sailed over the fence and rolled toward their car.

Dean smiled. He remembered playing this game when he was a kid. Sometimes he too had become over aggressive with the ball. It had been during those moments that he had pretended that the ball was his father's head. It had always helped for a few moments, but that was all. He wondered if the little boy had a father like his own. He jumped out of the car, ran to the ball, picked it up, and hesitated while he momentarily studied the face of the waiting boy for signs of distress of the kind that was often deep seated but habitually hidden to outsiders. But he saw nothing but excitement. The boy smiled and held out his spread arms. Dean smiled back and threw the ball over the fence. the boy caught it.

"Gee, thanks, Mister," he said. Dean jogged back to the car. "We can go now," he said. She turned the ignition key and again the jalopy roared and backfired to life. Soon they arrived at the prison.

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